Congressman named Louisiana veterans secretary

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander is stepping down next month from his congressional seat to run the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs, Gov. Bobby Jindal announced Wednesday.

The news came a day after Alexander, the state’s longest-serving U.S. House member, said he didn’t intend to seek re-election next year.

Alexander will resign from Congress on Sept. 26 and start his new $130,000-a-year job on Sept. 30, according to the governor’s office.

Jindal praised Alexander’s tenure in the Air Force, which lasted from 1965 to 1971, and he described the congressman as a dedicated public servant.

“Rodney has graciously agreed to step down from his seat in Congress in order to serve, and I know that he will do an incredible job as Secretary of Veterans Affairs,” Jindal said in a statement, after making the announcement in Monroe.

A special election will be held on Oct. 19 to fill Alexander’s congressional seat, with a Nov. 16 runoff if needed, said Jindal spokesman Sean Lansing.

Already two state lawmakers said Wednesday that they intend to run for the seat: Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, and Rep. Marcus Hunter, D-Monroe.

“I’m definitely running for Congress. Whenever the Election Day is, I will be running,” Riser said. He said when he found out Tuesday that Alexander wasn’t seeking re-election, “I immediately started making calls to all my donors.”

A Republican from Ruston, Alexander is in his sixth term representing the 5th District, a sprawling agricultural district that includes the cities of Monroe and Alexandria. He first won election to the district seat in 2002, after 15 years as a state lawmaker.

He blamed partisan gridlock Tuesday for his decision to leave Congress, rather than running for re-election in 2014.

“There is no more honorable position than serving the veterans of our great country. I am grateful that the governor has confidence in me to do what needs to be done for these brave men and women,” Alexander said in a statement.

The congressman’s office didn’t immediately respond to requests to speak with Alexander.

Jindal’s first veterans affairs secretary, Lane Carson, retired at the end of 2012 after four years in the job. Carson’s deputy, David LaCerte, has been serving as interim secretary.

Others mentioned as possible contenders for Alexander’s congressional seat include Republican state Sen. Mike Walsworth; Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, a Democrat; and Adam Terry, Alexander’s Republican chief of staff.

The 5th District covers all or part of 24 parishes across northeast Louisiana, through much of central Louisiana and including all the areas that run along the Mississippi state line.

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